Calhoun County Emergency Management officials have already decided to move to a storm-based weather alert system. Under such a system, only residents inside weather warning polygons — the oddly shaped boxes that appear on TV and Internet weather maps to indicate where severe weather is expected to strike — will be alerted of an approaching storm’s threat.
The upgrade cost the county $15,000. It would have cost twice that but McCord Communications, which installed the system, gave the county a 50 percent discount because it eliminated a $1.5 million upgrade.
The storm-based system became a popular method for notifying viewers of weather threats in TV weather reports about five years ago. It’s the same system used to alert smartphone users through advanced weather apps, said Jim Stefkovich, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Birmingham.
Most outdoor weather sirens in Alabama counties alert on a countywide basis. Weather alerts are also issued on a countywide basis through weather radios, Stefkovich said.
That means that people are regularly notified of weather warnings that don’t pose a threat to their particular community. The result, some weather experts and social scientists say, is that people become desensitized to the sound of the alerts and sirens.
Calhoun County will be one of the first to move to the storm-based alert system from the countywide system. Once the new system is implemented, residents will hear the sirens sound a lot less often and officials hope that leads them to take the warnings more seriously.
“It’s kind of like the old story of the little boy called wolf. People naturally stop responding to their sirens,” said Lance Muncher, who sells weather warning systems for McCord Communications.
It’s not the first measure county officials have taken to encourage residents to regard the sirens more seriously. Since last April, the county eliminated storm warnings for thunderstorm warnings and tornado watches. Now they only sound in case of a tornado warning.
Some weather experts recommend doing away with the outdoor siren system all together. But others say the outdoor warning system is an important piece of the storm warning puzzle.
“I believe they have a use, but they’re for people who are outdoors,” Stefkovich said. “I believe they have a purpose.”
The problem, he added, is that too many people rely on the outdoor weather sirens to alert them to a tornado’s threat. They should also have indoor weather warning systems, such as weather radios, he said.
Stefkovich said he keeps a weather radio in his home and has alerts sent to his phone even though he lives directly across the street from a screaming siren.
“To be dependent on 1950s-era technology just blows me away,” Stefkovich said.
Calhoun County EMA Director Jonathan Gaddy said Calhoun County residents should take warnings more seriously than ever from this point forward.
Outdoor weather sirens “alert you to the fact that something’s going on, but to be able to protect yourself you have to go inside and turn on the TV or radio” Gaddy said. “If you hear the sirens the big thing is to go inside and protect yourself.”
To find out more about weather alert systems check out this National Weather Service page: http://1.usa.gov/wZD7yL
Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter@LJohnson_Star.